Labyrinth "Let's Roll" Scenario AAR, Part 2

2007:  Afghanistan Act II, America the Respectful

The jihadists have made more progress toward their goals than has the US, but they have thus far failed to export their revolution from Central Asia.  Toward ultimate triumph of the jihad, al-Qaeda in Central Asia undertakes a large-scale training program of fighters to renew its drive south (Sunni scholarly rulings against funding the jihad come too late to prevent the build up).  In the face of US-Russian cooperation, al-Qaeda abandons an effort underway to acquire a complete Russian nuclear weapon and instead sends its guerilla army into Afghanistan.  An aggressive terrorist campaign there is met by equal Coalition and Afghan security efforts to thwart or mitigate the political impact of any attacks.  The two appear stalemated, as the efforts of both are consumed in the dusty country.

[1st of 3 possible reshuffles; 6 Recruit ops in Central Asia cells there to 7 (only 1 is left on the Funding Track); “Al-Azhar” drops Funding to 5; Jihadists use “Loose Nuke” card instead to travel to Afghanistan, multiple Plots, US Alerts, and additional Travel there ensue.]

Iran and Turkey cooperate to eliminate a cell operating along their borders.  Back in the US, the Administration continues to get resonance by arguing that its more respectful methods are containing terrorism.  Serbia among others endorses the new US policies, and it appears that US prestige in the Muslim world and elsewhere has more than recovered in response to the gentler US approach and the world is again aligned in its defense against extremism.  But the same approach for the time being rules out any US invasion of the Islamist states of Central Asia.

[US “Iran” to remove cell from Turkey; another “Safer Now” raises Prestige to 7 (High), leaves US Soft; 2 WoI Serbia to Soft and Prestige to 8, GWOT penalty to 0.]

The jihadist bolt now expended in occupied Afghanistan, efforts shift once again to easier targets in Syria, where a terror plot finally comes off.  Nearby, an Israeli invasion of Lebanon to chase Hizballah back from the border clouds the US image slightly and contributes to jihadism within Lebanon.  Nevertheless, the political and diplomatic situation between the West and Muslim world finally appear propitious for a US democratization push that has teeth.  The first US effort focuses on the key Arab state of Saudi Arabia but is rebuffed.

[Plot Afghanistan fails (cells to 0) but 1 is resolved in Syria (Funding to 8, Ample); “Lebanon War” Prestige to 7, cell in Lebanon, US must discard a card; WoI to improve Governance in Saudi Arabia (needs a 5-6) fails.]

2008:  The Bubble Bursts

Seeking to make hay in the sunshine, US development assistance and advisors pour into Afghanistan as the “war of ideas” ramps up there.  All the US resources and good intentions are to no avail, however, as the Kabul government appears unable to exceed mediocre performance.  The Coalition remains mired, and foreign fighters arrive in the country in time to force a focus from development back onto basic security, and new recruits from Central Asia augment them. 

[5 WoI attempts in Afghanistan fail, the last one triggering “Foreign Fighters”, placing 3 cells into the country, still in Regime Change; 1 Recruit in Central Asia; 2 Travel from there to Afghanistan, bringing number of cells to 5—a firm barrier to any War of Ideas there.]

Meanwhile, recruiting in Syria continues, and jihadists there appear ready to shift from terrorism to a real effort to topple the regime.  In addition, regional al-Qaeda allies spring up in North Africa but find the regimes opposing them there solid.  Instead, the North African cells and one in Lebanon use the ready access to Europe to travel there and attempt a series of attacks to shake European commitment to the US war of ideas.  Multiple plots in Germany, France, and Eastern Europe fail, however, and most of the cells are wrapped up.  Across the globe, Turkic Uyghurs form a jihadist movement targeting China.

[Recruit Syria brings cells to 5; “Regional Al-Qaeda” places cells in Morocco and Algeria/Tunisia, all of which test Fair; those cells plus 1 from Lebanon travel to the EU, where 7 Plot attempts by them all fail; US Disrupts in EEurope and Germany; the latter triggers “Uyghur Jihad” to place a cell in China (at Soft).  All available cells are in play.]

On the heels of the disappointing results of the US democratization drive and jihadist counterstroke in Afghanistan, the roof falls in.  The secret renditions program leaks and becomes a worldwide scandal.  The US is accused of false respect for human rights and of speaking out of both sides of its mouth.  Its prestige plummets, and the President’s party casts about for a candidate who will prosecute the war without the ultimately self-defeating lip service to European appeasers of extremism. 

Icing the ugly cake, Kabul’s involvement in the renditions causes the fragile government so much embarrassment in the Muslim world that it begins to disavow the Coalition and raise the possibility of accommodation with the Taliban.  US Afghan policy appears in tatters.  Nevertheless, politically unfettered, US forces there return to harsher counterinsurgent tactics, doing well at reducing jihadist numbers and thereby restoring a bit of Washington’s reputation.

[US card play riskily triggers “Leak”, flipping (blocking) “Renditions”, shifting US back to Hard, Prestige to 1, and Afghan Alignment from Ally to Neutral; US uses the card’s ops for disrupt in Afghanistan to remove 2 of 5 cells, Prestige to 2; a failed Plot there removes a 3rd.]

2009:  US Counterterrorism Digs Out

Exploiting their control of poppy-growing areas of Afghanistan, the jihadists use drug money to swell their ranks there and launch an ambitious new terror campaign.  But Coalition capture and interrogation of al-Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provides information to foil the plots as well as a massive suicide operation against France planned by the surviving cell in Europe.  Continued counterinsurgent operations again trim back the Afghan jihadist numbers and add to a recovering US reputation.  Terrorist activity continues in Syria, but authorities there are on top of each plot in turn.  Gulf donors are losing interest in the jihad.  In the United States, the eternal Amerithrax investigation takes another turn, consuming much media and law enforcement energy.

[“Opium” brings cells in Afghanistan back to 5; 2 of 3 Plotting attempts there succeed, and US trigger of “Martyrdom Operation” (to Disrupt 2 cells) places another 2 plots there at the expense of the French cell; “KSM” then removes all 4 plots and raises Prestige to 5; 3 uncoordinated plots in Syria each are countered by Alerts; “Amerithrax” forces discard of “CTR”; a cell is recruited in Central Asia.]

Perhaps responding to Uyghur separatism, China surprises the world by implicitly endorsing the aggressive US anti-jihadist operations.  A Uyghur jihadist attempt to punish and perhaps reverse Beijing with an attack inside the PRC flops.  With these diplomatic successes and a stabilized military situation in Afghanistan, the West is finally again positioned to promote good governance there.  It banks first on the United Nations presence, but this time the world body gains no traction.  At year’s end, the US Administration contemplates an invasion of Central Asia, but the risk to prestige, European relations, and the war of ideas does not seem warranted.

[WoI succeeds in bringing China to Hard and Prestige to 7 (High); a Plot in China fails; “UN Nation Building” in Afghanistan fails on a 1 (needed 4-6).]

2010:  Mopping the Floor While the Roof is Leaking

The year opens with a second Israeli Gaza incursion, provoked by HAMAS rocket fire into Israel, that again curbs Muslim enthusiasm for US policy, gives al-Qaeda funding a shot in the arm, but also draws would be anti-US suicide bombers into that conflict instead.  More US Treasury Department designations keep a lid on al-Qaeda finances, while Syrian security detains most of the final available Central Asian operatives flying into that country.  Russian forces strike at Central Asian militant training infrastructure, while US friends in Southeast Asia put a stake in the heart of Indonesian jihadism by arresting its key operative Hambali. 

[“Gaza War” Prestige down to 6 (Medium), Funding up to 6 (still Moderate), and US discard without effect of “Martyrdom Operation”; jihadist trigger of “Sanctions” (Funding back to 5) to attempt 1 cell Travel Central Asia to Syria that fails, eliminating the cell; “Hambali” removes a remaining cell in Indonesia/Malaysia and ups Prestige to 7 (High); “FSB” removes the last cell in Islamist Central Asia.]

A confident US now again invests in building Afghan governance, and is successful in repairing the damage caused by the renditions mess—but no more than that.  A new Taliban resurgence reestablishes Islamist militancy not only in the Afghan border areas but also in the autonomous territories of next-door Pakistan.  Terrorist attacks go off in Damascus and are averted in Xinjiang.  The Uyghur terrorists pull out of China to help rebuild fighting strength in Central Asia.  And Iraq’s Saddam asserts his anti-Coalition interest by providing some of his oil revenue to the jihad—al-Qaeda will end this year with ample funding.  But the real danger is now building in Bashar Asad’s anti-US Syria, where patient jihadist organization is bearing fruit and an ever growing guerilla force awaits in the shadows.

[3 Recruit ops in Syria all succeed (cells to 8); 1 of 3 WoI succeeds, shifting Neutral Alignment back to Ally but leaving Governance Fair and triggering “FATA” and “Taliban” (cell each in Afghan & Pak, -1 Prestige to 6); 2 plots resolved in Syria, 1 in China Alerted; 1 cell Travels China to Central Asia; “Saddam” sets Funding to 9; “Sanctions” takes it back to 8, end of hand takes it to 7 (still Ample).]

2011:  The Syrian War

The Taliban open the new year with an attack on the United Nations, killing the leader of the long UN mission in that country and resulting in a UN pullout.  A separate Taliban plot in Kabul goes awry, but another in Pakistan absorbs authorities’ resources.  With most US troops at home, global Islamist proselytizing begins to take an anti-violence bent, denting al-Qaeda and Taliban finances.

[“Vieira de Mello Slain” blocks UN; failed Plot removes Afghan cell, Plot in Pakistan Alerted; “Hizb -ut-Tahrir” Funding down to 6 (Moderate).]

All this is but preamble.  In the spring, the powerful jihadist organization in Syria finally makes its move on the regime.  Asad’s security forces—focused on countering Israel—prove a weak reed against the popular internal uprising.  With only moderate losses, the Islamists seize control of the country in a month.  Not resting a minute in the onward march of the jihad, fighters immediately begin to infiltrate the Syrian-Iraqi border into the pro-Islamist population of al-Anbar province. 

[Successful Jihad in Syria, -1 cell to 7, Syria to Islamist Rule Adversary, Islamist Resources to 4 (of 6 needed for win); 3 cells Travel Syria to Iraq]

This time Washington divines that containment is not enough.  It quickly assembles Coalition backing and launches a summer invasion of the new Syrian Islamist state, quickly pushing jihadists eastward out of Damascus.  While there is little cheering in the Muslim world, shock and revulsion at Asad’s weakness keeps protest mild this time.  A provisional government of appointed anti-Asad Syrians proves itself popular and surprisingly competent.  To show that the Central Asian “terror states” are not to be left off the hook, US special forces based in Afghanistan raid northward.

[Regime Change Deploy 6 troops from Track to Syria, US to War, Syria tests Fair Ally, Islamist Resources back to 2 (for Central Asia), Prestige -1 to 4 (still Medium); “Special Forces” removes cell in Central Asia.]

Jihadist efforts to strike at US troops in Syria and the new government there are largely self-defeating; terrorist plotting inside Iraq adds up to little that Saddam’s security services can’t handle.  Iran meanwhile uses agents within Pakistan to strike jihadist interests there.  The jihad’s only success for the remainder of the year is the recruiting of new cadres in its Central Asian bastion and formation—aided by jihadist use of the Internet—of a new cell in Lebanon.  While stabilization work in Syria remains, the US feels confident enough in the Fall to draw down its troop strength there by a small percentage.

[5 Plot ops in Syria with only 1 success (Alerted) eliminates the 4 cells remaining there; 6 Plot ops in Iraq also yield only 1 success, but the Alert to stop it triggers “Jihadist Videos” that places a cell each in Central Asia an Lebanon; “Iran” removes a cell from Pakistan (despite “FATA”).]

2012:  Democratic Surge and US Disillusionment

Bin Ladin’s presence over the airwaves out of Central Asia—a constant reminder of unfinished US business—remains an embarrassment for Washington, but the establishment of a US embassy in independent Kosovo provides an antidote in Muslim media.  Rapidly organized national elections in Syria see massive turnout despite jihadist and Baathist threats to any who dare participate.  Apparently the weariness with Asad’s regime and the brief taste of Islamist rule has left the population eager for representative government.  The election’s winners are largely viewed inside and outside Syria as legitimate, and, in a remarkable course of events over just a single year, Arab democracy sprouts after decades of Alawite tyranny.

[2nd reshuffle; “Bin Lain Audio” Prestige to 3 (Low); “Kosovo” Prestige back to 4 (Medium, Serbia already Soft so no change to its Posture); “Mass Turnout” Syria Fair to Good Ally, Good Resources to 2 (compared to 2 Islamist Resources for Central Asia—US must exceed double Islamist total to win).]

The Coalition occupation of Afghanistan remains in the Arab news, and Arab volunteers continue to flow into that still troubled country.  Their clever, massed employment of roadside bombs takes a heavy toll on US and NATO troops, causing a search for countermeasures as well as political pain in the US, Canada, and Europe.  Aggressive Coalition counteroffensive  sweeps help, and Afghanistan returns to its decade-long low boil.

[“Foreign Fighters” places 3 cells in Afghanistan; “IEDs” causes US discard of a 3 card; 2 Disrupt operations in Afghanistan eliminate the cells and pump up
Prestige to 6 (still Medium).]

Jihadist hopes next turn to Iraq and the Anbar bridgehead established there before the US invasion of Syria.  Recruiting among its Sunnis starts slow but picks up momentum, until fighters there are as numerous as they had been before the revolution in Syria.  Multiple terrorist attacks in Baghdad and Basra keep the regime off balance, and the jihad appears poised to bite Saddam’s hand.

[5 of 8 Recruit ops in Iraq succeed, cells to 8; 3 of 5 Plot ops in Iraq succeed, none Alerted.]

The US for the moment leaves Saddam to his fate.  With help from the good example and its new friends in Damascus, the US successfully presses the King of Jordan finally to go all the way with his political reforms.  A similar effort with the Turks is less warmly received, old tendencies rear up in relations with Moscow, and suicide bombings return to Jakarta.  But Arab democracy, at least, is spreading.

[WoI Jordan succeeds, Fair to Good Ally (Good Resources to 3, compared to Islamist 2); WoI Turkey fails; “Ex-KGB” removes “CTR” from Russia; “Martyrdom Operation” sets off 2 unblocked plots in Indonesia, leaving 1 cell there.]

The US Administration considers acting on the apparent pro-Western momentum at last to take the war seriously into Central Asia and eliminate jihadist rule.  But it demurs, conserving US resources for the longer struggle and confident that the positive examples of Syria and Jordan will eventually become irresistible across the Muslim world.  Instead, the Administration takes the easier step of bringing the troops home from Syria after a fabulously successful 18-month deployment.

[3-ops card that might have been used for Regime Change in Central Asia instead used to deploy troops from Syria to Troops Track, bringing US from War to Low Intensity (providing an extra card in the US hand.]

That prudence soon proves a political mistake.  The 2012 presidential election that follows turns not on US successes in Syria but on why Usama Bin Ladin’s “terror states” of Central Asia have been allowed to survive and why the US is facing yet another jihad in Iraq.  The opponents successfully cast the Administration not as having won an 18-month war in Syria but as losing a 10-year war since 9/11, and the electorate opts for a new approach.  By Inauguration Day, 2013, commentators are already judging the decade-long “Global War on Terror” as a time of US hesitation—even dithering—against aggressive jihadist advances, a historical condemnation all the worse in light of the massive US material advantage the Administration had available.

[1st jihadist play of new hand is “US Election” for 3rd reshuffle and game end, Good Resources at 3 is less than twice Islamist Resources at 2:  Jihadist side wins.]